Friday, October 30, 2009

And the blade clacked the vertebra...

Serial killer victim Jeanine Nicarico. Scroll to second item for her story.

By Shane Gericke

First, everyone, sorry I haven't been online this week. I'm still struggling to recover from the vapors--what the docs now call viral bronchitis--so I've been napping more than working. Had to miss y'all at Bouchercon, too. Major bummer.

So, the answer to the question, What's the most exotic way you've killed a character? Allow me to quote from my current book, CUT TO THE BONE:

The barber bent close, touched steel to flesh. Several dozen strokes later, he wiped the Executioner clean with a hot towel from the baseboard steamer.

"Terrific job, Frank," the Executioner enthused, watching the white fog billow into the shivery air. "Best shave I've had since ... well, ever."

"Thanks. I pride myself on them," Frank said. "The straight razor helps."

The Executioner reached to the shelf to examine one. He stopped midair.

"Oops, sorry," he apologized. "All right if I take a look?"

"Oh, sure, be my guest," the barber said.

The Executioner raised the straight razor to the light, turned it this way and that. No tool marks. No burrs. Just a gleam and perfect mating of ironwood handle to hollow-ground carbon steel blade. "This is a work of art," he said, deeply impressed. "And you're an artist."

"Thanks," Frank Mahoney Jr. said, young chest puffing under his white smock. "That's genuine Solingen steel, all the way from Germany. Grandpa Frank got them off the Internet. They're expensive, but they keep a nice sharp edge, which you need to clip those annoying loose ends."

"Funny you should mention that," the Executioner said, reaching toward the shelf.

"Mention what?" Frank said, bending to the towel steamer for the final hot one.

The Executioner reversed his movement, sliced the boy ear to ear, Solingen steel sinking so deep the edge clacked off the cervical vertebra.

"Awk ... wha ..." Frank gurgled as his eyes went full-moon.

"You're a loose end," the serial killer said, backpedaling to avoid the blood shot. "And I just clipped you. Funny, huh?"

Frank collapsed like a brain-shot calf.

"Or not," the Executioner said ...


Serial killer Brian Dugan.

Today, I'm going to visit a real one. His name is Brian Dugan. He kidnapped, beat, sodomized, strangled and murdered a woman and two children back in the 1980s. One of the kids was 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico from Naperville, IL, where I live. Dugan confessed to the first two, drew life in prison. He recently confessed to Jeanine's, and hopes to avoid lethal injection because he confessed--an act of contrition, he says, that makes him a good guy worth saving. The prospect he might be saved does not make me happy. Dugan tried and failed to rape and kill a half-dozen other girls. He is unrepentant. He is evil.

I want to see what pure evil looks like, up close. So, I'll attend his sentencing hearing at the DuPage County Courthouse. The prosecutor is arguing for death. Dugan's lawyers argue against. The jury must decide.

I don't believe in the death penalty. It's America at its revenge-besotted worst, with laws and rules written by the melon-brained politicians who gave us the war in Iraq, torture of prisoners, and bank "reform." In other words, it's rotten.

Nonetheless, I'm pulling for the prosecution. Hypocritical, you say?

Guilty. Though with an asterisk.

* I'd really like Dugan to escape the needle and get life with no parole in a maximum security prison, with assignment to general population,instead of the protective custody he's enjoyed for the twenty years this case has dragged through the court system. Let him experience the humiliating and terrifying rape he gave all his victims. Let him feel his anus rip as the shaft ...

Well. You know.

When his attackers are sated, find more. There's lots of horny cons in the max. For a "short-eyes"--prison jargon for "child molester"--the other cons and the guards will look the other way. Sorry to sound so bloodthirsty about this, but the thought of Dugan makes my skin crawl and my jaw start flapping. The family is warm and loving, and I am proud to raise money for their dead daughter. I'll be prouder yet when Brian Dugan receives his justice.

Preferably, bent over a laundry basket, howling at the unfairness of it all.

I look forward to giving you my report next week.

Shane Gericke despises serial killers, but writes about them anyway because they fascinate him so much. His next crime novel appears in July, 2010.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Antibiotic Wishes and Codeine Dreams ...

By Kelli

What's the most exotic way I've ever killed off a character?

Well, possibly a combination of yew berry poisoning and stabbing ... or maybe aconite (Deadly Nightshade) poisoning combined with drowning. The combo methods are generally a result of the imprecise nature of poisons in the Roman world--both of those methods of disposal are found in NOX DORMIENDA and CURSED (formerly known as MALEDICTUS), respectively.

Poison in the Roman world was a very common tool, especially among imperial women, if the historians are to be believed. And since any Roman historian needs to be taken with a proverbial grain or even ceramic dish of salt, the link between women of any class and poison is probably more of a cultural paranoia than an actual historical fact--that old saw about poison being the women's weapon runs back at least a couple of thousand years.

I personally think it says more about Roman historians and the dominant culture than it does about women or their weapons of choice, but still ... the idea of the foxglove leaves "accidentally" introduced into the salad by the person nominally in charge of the culinary domain is intriguing, no?

You might even say the Romans had poison on the brain. In Pliny, for example, you'll find reference to poisoned honey ... something I might use in the Arcturus Series, if it proves successful enough to continue. But me, well, when I kill a character it needs to work within the milieu and be absolutely consistent with characterization. No fancy-schmancy poisoned peacock's tongue when a simple bit of poisoned eye cream is far more logical on both counts.

Actually, as a writer (and I know this is going to ruin our reps, guys, so forgive me), I don't spend a lot of time dreaming up ways of killing off people. We like to give the impression that we do--makes us seem a lot more interesting, and makes people inclined to be nice to us--but I think most of us create a situation and characters and let things unfold from there.

In CITY OF DRAGONS, people die from gunshot wounds, one person is intentionally run down and run over by a car, and someone else is strangled. Each death matters; each victim matters. No matter what the agent is, no matter how it happens, loss is loss and it's the most Godawful thing about life, period.

With respects to Dylan Thomas, I do not go gently into that good night.

And that respect for life and death is why, I think, we as authors take a grim satisfaction in punishing the people who prey on others ...

Now, as to my blog post title? Well, I'm writing this while taking codeine cough syrup for a bad bout of something that has me out for the count for the week. And I'm on super-antibiotics, too. So right now, I'm wondering about the toxicity of drugs I'm taking ... ah, the writer's life for me! :)

Take care, everybody--and stay healthy!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Littlefield: Unrepentant Killing Machine

by Sophie

What's the most exotic way you've ever killed off a character?

Hah, funny you should ask that!

When I wrote A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, I had a grand time killing off domestic abusers. My character, Stella Hardesty, had a no-exceptions policy - a guy got one warning and if he offended again, he was done. Over and out. Dead.

I was creative with my methods, too. I had Stella beating, electrocuting, stomping, whipping, slicing - everything I could think of to render a live jerk a dead one.

Then I had a little talk with my editor. Her message, in brief, was ix-nay on the arnage-cay. Stella could not, she said, go around killing all those folks. Self defense was one thing, once in a very great while, and only when her own life is in peril. But apparently her personal moral code was not quite finely developed enough: she would be more compelling and even, dare my editor say it, sympathetic if she gave the rest of the bad guys a second chance. And a third. Whatever was necessary for them to emerge chastened but alive.

This got me to grumbling for a while, until I realized that my editor was, ahem, right. Not only would my audience prefer a less bloodthirsty heroine but, as it turned out, I did too. On the day I wrote Stella's impassioned speech where she explains to her sidekick why she stops short of killing, I found that Stella's beliefs echoed my own - that, in brief, asskicking's well in the realm of us mortals but ultimate justice remains the domain of the Big Guy.

Still, I was kind of sorry to see all my creative mayhem curtailed. Could I, I asked in an email to my editor, still get creative when it came to, uh, rehabilitation? Was there a limit on the devices and methods Stella could use? Was I to be relegated, for instance, to a simple rubber-hose beating when there's an entire universe of instruments of pain out there?

Happily, she and I came to an accommodation and I went merrily back to revisions, humming a cheerful tune. Stella still gets to bring a world of hurt - it's just a world with limits. Limits which, happily, I have learned to work within.

Here's a little taste of what Stella gets up to in A BAD DAY FOR SORRY:

“Well, a couple years ago, a man – a preacher, if you can believe it – came back for my returning customer special. He was smart enough not to bother his ex-wife, she and I made sure of that. But get this, he wasn’t smart enough to stay away from the lady who played the organ at the noon service. Moved her right in with him and everything. Now I’m not saying she was any kind of smart to hook up with him, but still, stupid ain’t a crime...That preacher’s in about six pieces buried under that tire pile.”

There was a fair amount of truth to the story – all of it, in fact, right up to the tire pile.

Stella didn’t kill the man, though. Her killing days were done. Killing Ollie had cost her plenty, but she was still pretty sure that when Judgement Day arrived and she was called for her audience with the Big Guy, He would understand.
Stella had only one death on her hands, and she meant to keep it that way.

Still, there were other ways to skin even the most stubborn tomcat. When the preacher took up his old ways on a new lady, Stella merely switched tactics.

Whenever a garden-variety restraint-and-reckoning first visit didn’t do the trick, Stella got creative. In this case, the preacher’s hypocrisy reminded her of a story she read in English Class at Prosper High School, and she slowly and carefully burned a scarlet ‘A’ on his chest with her electric prod.

If she remembered her High School English properly, poor Hester Prynne lettered in Adultery. The preacher, Stella figured, earned his for Assholeism. But at least now he was a retired Asshole. Taking his shirt off was probably all a lady needed to see before she took off running.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No piranhas required

By Jeremy Duns, guesting for Rebecca Cantrell

I'm at Bouchercon this week, so I asked fellow historical spy writer Jeremy Duns to step in. I knew that someone writing spy thrillers set during the Cold War, starting with the critically well-received FREE AGENT, would know all sorts of devious ways to kill characters. My advice: don’t stand next to him in the rain.

So, Jeremy, what’s the most unusual way that you have ever killed a character?

I write spy thrillers set during the Cold War, and as a result there’s a certain expectation that they will feature exotic deaths. I think this is partly due to the James Bond films, in which characters are fed to piranhas, burned alive or sucked out of airplanes, and partly to some of the real methods of assassination developed by intelligence agencies during that era. Last year, I wrote an article for The London Times listing my top 10 real-life spy gadgets (, and included a CIA dart gun and the exploding briefcase developed by British boffins during World War Two. But none of these appear in my novels.

It’s hard to write an exotic death once the KGB has assassinated someone with a ricin-tipped umbrella. Many spy novelist have tried, of course, but the danger is that you come across as a spoof. Plus, the Bond films have used up most of the good methods. So instead I tend to kill characters off fairly conventionally, but try to make things more interesting through setting. So my first novel, Free Agent, culminates with an assassination in a Red Cross clinic during the Biafran War. My second, Free Country, which will be published next year, features deaths in London’s Smithfield meat market (following a fight with some electric saws, of course), in an installation in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome and even one on top of St Peter’s basilica.

In fact, the latter is probably the most exotic way I’ve killed a character: my protagonist, British agent Paul Dark, is chased down the dome by several villains, and ends up killing one of them. I suppose I won’t surprise anyone who knows thriller-writers that we can be a sick bunch: I had a great time planning the scene on a research trip to Rome. While all the other tourists were photographing the views of the Eternal City and the statues of the Apostles, I was clicking away to get the angles of some railings and grinning at the fact that they looked perfect for what I had in mind. No piranhas or lasers, sorry, but this is as exotic as I get:

‘He stood to his full length and his mouth formed a grim smile: he thought he had me. He was grasping something in his hand, and it glittered momentarily in the sun. It had a long, thin blade: a stiletto knife?… He saw his chance and leapt forward, pushing me further down the roof and towards the line of railings that enclosed the flight of stairs. As he jerked the knife down, I threw my arms up and grabbed hold of his wrist, managing to stop the blade a few inches from my neck. He grunted, his mouth clamped shut and a hissing noise emanating from his nostrils, and the blade moved closer. I pushed back against him with every sinew and fibre, but I knew that I could only hold out for another second or two at the most…

There was a blur of movement and his free hand came round in a tight fist, aiming low, and I recognized the old commando move and made to counter it with my forearm. I caught it just in time, but in the meantime the blade continued its descent. I pushed back again. Beads of sweat dripped into my eyes, stinging them, and I tried to blink them away, to no avail. He grunted again, and as the blade dropped another fraction of an inch I prepared myself for it to pierce into me.

But then I realized with a flash of intuition what I had to do, and I abruptly relaxed my grip and jerked my head away sharply at the same moment, and the surprise and momentum were too much for him to correct and as his arm came down he lost his balance and the whole upper half of his body tipped over with it, and then I was looking down at the cluster of railing spikes emerging through the top of his head, the tips covered in some dark slimy mixture I didn’t want to think about. He moaned one last moan, and then his limbs went into a final spasm and he was still…

And here’s a photo of the railings in question. I’m sure you’ll agree that they simply had to be featured.

Jeremy Duns is the author of the Paul Dark trilogy. Free Agent was published by Viking in June 2009; Free Country and Free World will be out in 2010 and 2011. Please see for more information.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Death by Kalama

What's the most exotic way you've ever killed off a character?

I've had tons of fun coming up with new and different ways to eliminate characters!

In my first book, LIFELINES, there was nothing too exotic. Just a little cyanide, some homegrown explosives to liven things up.

But, in WARNING SIGNS, I went all out. There was almost a death in a hyperbaric chamber (doing the research for that was fun—not!), a man who jumped from a bridge, a little medical malfeasance, an attack by a graveyard cat, and, most fun of all, an impalement by a 8'6" Kalama surfboard.

URGENT CARE comes out tomorrow. The murder and mayhem in it is a bit less esoteric but the badguys still get what's coming to them.

Here's a sneak preview:

I'm just starting the fourth book in the series, ISOLATION. It's going to take place in a very compressed time frame, think Die Hard in a hospital.

And yes, I’m already coming up with more off the wall ways to kill folks inside a hospital….so, let me know, how would you like to see someone die in the new book?

No guarantees, but I'm always looking for inspiration!

And, for any writers out there, in honor of URGENT CARE's release, I'm hosting a contest.

One lucky winner will have their query package critiqued by my agent, Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency.

Check here for more details:

Feel free to spread the word to all your writer friends! And yes, Barbara does like wild and wacky murder methods!

Thanks for reading!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."

The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, is due out October, 2009. Contact her at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gabrella's Question for Keith Raffel

Are there any common themes in your lives as an entrepreneur and an author?

Do you know, there are more than I ever would have guessed. Here are a few.

As both an entrepreneur and an author, a compelling, gripping story is the starting point. In one case the deliverable is called a business plan that you try to convince a venture capitalist firm to invest in. In the other, it’s called a manuscript that you try to convince a publisher to print and distribute. In both cases, though, you need your story to be sufficiently compelling to convince someone else to put time and resources behind it. Most of the time, the VC or the publisher is going to say no. So the next step is that in both cases, you need to believe in the story you’re telling. To find investors for the company I started, I spoke to 30 venture capitalists. Before finding an agent, I queried 30 of them. I love the quote from my pal, doctor/novelist/playwright/dance writer Larry Vincent: “When my manuscript was accepted, I suddenly changed from being delusional to determined.” Exactly.

While in high tech, I loved meeting with customers and seeing what they thought of our products. It was both validation of what we’d done and inspiration for what we’d do next. No different with novel-writing. Listening to what readers like – and even what they don’t – provides inspiration and impetus for the next book.

One more similarity. In both cases, those who have made it already are incredibly generous to those who have not. Other CEOs counseled me on mistakes they made, offered introductions to potential investors, and helped me find employees. Here’s just one example of the generosity of our fellow writers. When I needed a blurb for Dot Dead, my first book, the late Stuart Kaminsky, the MWA Grandmaster and a real mensch, took the time to give me one despite having deadlines for books in four different series. I’ll never forget. I guess when someone helps you like that, the way you repay is by helping someone else.

That’s the end of my week of blogging here. Thanks, CJ, Becky, Sophie, Kelli, Tim, and Gabi. It’s been a blast!


As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tim's Question for Keith Raffel

A piece of the action in Smasher takes place at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Is that anything like the particle accelerator at CERN, in Switzerland, where they are making anti-matter? Are there any black holes in your novel? Isn't it bad enough that those of us living in California have to worry about earthquakes and wildfires, not to mention state bankruptcy, without you putting the whole world at risk?

Tim, why is it always left to me to dispel your innocent illusions? I still remember the tears when I told you why you couldn’t apply to Hogwarts for grad school. Well, here goes again. Angels and Demons is a work of fiction. Despite what Dan Brown wrote, anti-matter and black holes are not about to swallow the world. You can go back to worrying about earthquakes and wildfires.

Still, in writing Smasher, I did become a real fan of particle physics. Growing up in Palo Alto, I paid attention to the first stirrings of what became Silicon Valley. My dad was an engineer working on the first videotape recorders. But neither I, nor anyone I knew, paid much attention to what was happening over at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). While Bob Noyce was inventing the microprocessor at Intel, a team of physicists at Stanford was discovering what the universe was made of.

Two of my kids have taken physics classes at Palo Alto High which is across the street from Stanford. But I’ve looked over their physics syllabus – it could have been taught by Isaac Newton. Doesn’t anyone care about what we and everyone else is made of? Congress decided no when it killed plans for the world’s largest atom smasher. Now, as you say, the center of physics has moved to Switzerland. Anti-matter and black holes can make for popular crime fiction. Dan Brown did prove that in Angels and Demons. (Maybe some of that pixie dust will rub off on Smasher?) Most of the universe is dark matter and we don’t know what that is. Some scientists think we live in an eleven-dimensional universe. (From what I’ve read, I think there are at least five.) At CERN people are trying to find out.

Here’s the great thing about particle physics for us thriller writers: There’s plenty of ambition, prizes and money at stake, just as in high tech. Even better, there are electron beams traveling at over 99% of the speed of light, sort of Star Wars-style ray guns. So I wanted to bring together the parallel universes of high tech and high energy physics in one story. And that’s why I wrote Smasher.
Till tomorrow then,
As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at

Friday, October 23, 2009

Shane's Question for Keith Raffel

You’re a history major, not an engineer. How did you fit into the high tech world then?

It is a little embarrassing, buddy. Maybe it’s genetics: my dad was an engineer who went to work at one of the pioneering companies of Silicon Valley, Ampex, developing videotape recorders 50 years ago (almost to the day).

In fact, I found the study of history pretty good preparation for starting a company. The word "history" comes from the French word “histoire” which means “story.” Makes sense, doesn’t it, for what is history but telling the story of the past? Funnily enough, I found that story-telling was the most important skill for being an entrepreneur of a high-tech start-up. I had a dream of a company and needed to tell it convincingly to get venture capitalists to invest and potential employees to sign on. Not too different from convincing a publisher to invest in the story we writers want to tell, is it?

In the end, not being technically-trained might have been an advantage. Most technical founders of companies are kicked aside after the product is designed. They think if they have the right technology, a la Emerson, the world will beat a path to their door. As a CEO, simply knowing the technology isn’t enough. (Amazingly, I have one patent and have applied for another.) The amount I didn’t understand was vast. But by asking stupid questions and insisting we use crisp and clear language to explain what we were up to, I was able, first, to grasp what was possible and then help put together a compelling story. The company I founded, UpShot, pioneered offering applications over the Internet – what’s now called cloud computing. We spent a lot of time telling our story of why it was less-expensive and more reliable than running applications in-house.

I try to keep things understandable when writing about Silicon Valley, too. No one wants to read pages on how a chip design company is moving from 33 nanometer wafers to 20 nanometer wafers. They want to read about the drama, the people, the discovery, the ambitions, the jealousies. As always, story-telling is key.

Until tomorrow then,

As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kelli's Question for Keith Raffel

What kind of diabolical inventions are going to be coming out of the Valley in the next few years?

Kelli, I think what’s coming is bad news for us crime writers. What’s affected the plot of crime fiction most in the last 20 years? Cellphones. Why walk into the dark house before calling 911? Our fellow authors seem to be handling the suspense-deflating qualities of cellphones two ways. First, they move their stories back in time to the seventies or eighties to the pre-cellphone era. Second, their heroes or victims have the phone battery run out at a critical time. The first may be okay, but the second is getting to be a cliché.

Well, things are about to get worse – for us writers, for criminals, and for civil liberties.

Here’s the first complicating factor. My friend Walter was the head of engineering at a Silicon Valley Company called Snaptrack. That company’s technology is now being incorporated into cellphones so their precise location can be pinpointed. Carry your cellphone with you and it tells your provider where you are. Tough on alibis, isn’t it?

Next videocameras are becoming more prevalent. Last month a grad student was murdered in a building at Yale that had 75 cameras. It didn’t take long to figure out the leading suspect. In London over 10,000 monitors blanket public places and form what The London Evening Standard calls a “publicly funded spy network.” The perpetrators of the infamous July 7, 2005 bombings on the London subways were identified by these cameras. Google searches throughout the entire World Wide Web to find you a given phrase. Video search technology will soon be to the point where it can match a certain person’s face. Combine this with ubiquitous cameras and future Sherlock Holmeses won’t have to venture out into the London Fog. He or she will use a video search engine to watch a suspect’s movements during the time of the crime.

To listen in on phone calls, authorities need a warrant that indicates probable cause of a crime or a threat to national security. There is no need for a warrant when likenesses are captured on video in public places, because there is no expectation of privacy. I’m horrified at the prospect of a real life Big Brother. My kids just shrug their shoulders. They kind of expect to be monitored.

What a problem for us crime writers. How are we crime fiction writers going to be able to make our stories compelling when authorities can track people’s locations through the cellphones they carry or watch them when they move through the streets? Was Sting playing a law enforcement officer when he sang:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take
I'll be watching you

It’s going to be tough for us writers in a world where this is literally true.

Cheers. See you tomorrow.


As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sophie's Question for Keith Raffel

You've been a successful entrepreneur in a high-tech environment, where the pace was no doubt frantic and the stakes were high. How was the transition to the relatively solitary and self-directed life of an author?

You know, Sophie, I don’t find a career as a writer to be a solitary one at all. A highlight every year is hanging with you and other compadres at ThrillerFest, Bouchercon, and Left Coast Crime. As you know from personal observation , I mean to go to one terrific panel or another, but often end up drinking tea in the lobby or beer in the bar with you or another pal. (In photo at left that's you, Alex Sokoloff, Jim Rollins, and me at ThrillerFest 2009.)

On a more regular basis, I call my friend Larry to kvetch. And I have three or four other friends who read my manuscripts and give me feedback. If I’m dying of loneliness, I can always call my agent who pretends to be glad to hear from me. I’ll be spending the rest of this month and most of November on the road visiting bookstores. What’s better than meeting with people who have or will read your book? Listening to what readers like – and even what they don’t – provides inspiration and impetus for the next book.

In terms of discipline, working in high tech and writing are surprisingly similar. In the former we used project management software to ensure that a product stays on schedule. About two years ago, I wrote a little spreadsheet program to manage the writing process. I get a real charge of staying on my schedule of 5-7000 words a week. Of course, the writing process is not mechanical. Inspiration and creativity are vital, and you can’t force them. Still, the best way to find them is to keep writing on a schedule.

When I’m really rolling, I don’t write at home. My wife isn’t pleased because we outfitted an office in the house with a nice desk and bookshelves. It kind of looks like the place an author should churn out masterpieces. (As if….) The trouble is that we have Wi-Fi at home. I’ve discovered I average about 150 words per hour sitting at my desk. What happens? I get stuck at the end of a paragraph and say to myself, “Oh let me check email while I’m thinking things through.” Twenty minutes later I’m reading about Ramses the Great in Wikipedia. The café I write in has no Wi-Fi (or really it’s $15 per day which amounts to the same thing). I’m sort of like Norm on the TV show Cheers there. Everyone who works there knows me, they know I’m on deadline. They’re friendly and incredibly supportive. They even turn down the music when I come in. I’ve worn out the piping on the couch where I sit. It’s a community.

Sophie, I’ve been procrastinating, dancing around the real answer to your question, so here it is: When I’m writing that first draft of any manuscript, I’m not alone. I’m in a parallel universe where I become the narrator/protagonist of whatever I’m writing. When I wrote Smasher, I was Ian Michaels who interacts with his wife, his mother, his work colleagues all the time. Sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? Well, to quote E.L. Doctorow, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” In fact, when I finish a manuscript, I’m kinda lonely. I miss being Ian and hanging with the other characters.

See you tomorrow!
As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rebecca's Question for Keith Raffel

You grew up in Silicon Valley. How’s it changed from when you were a kid?

Rebecca, you’re going to make me sound like an old geezer, but here goes. When I was a boy, Silicon Valley was known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Two-thirds of the country’s apricots were grown here and San Jose, now the country’s tenth largest city, was a sleepy canning town. Where I grew up in Palo Alto, people didn’t lock their doors. I went to Palo Alto High School with the children of janitors and schoolteachers as well as the Hewlett and Packard kids. My parents bought their first house here in 1960 for less than $30,000.

Thanks to Stanford and the engineers it turned out, Silicon Valley took root here. The orchards of my youth filled with cherry and apricot trees have been replaced by tilt-up buildings filled with software engineers and MBAs. Has there ever been anywhere on earth where more wealth was created faster? Intel, Apple, Google, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and Facebook all started and grew up here. Even today, one-third of all the venture capital invested in this country finds its way to Silicon Valley.

My kids go to Palo Alto High, just as I did. When it comes to diversity, there are no more children of janitors and school teachers at the school. With all the money flowing here and being made here, everything is ridiculously expensive. says that house of my parents is now worth 50 times what it was 50 years ago. On the other hand, my kids are growing up in a town far more diverse in another way. When I was a teen, the school was over 95% white. Today the school is filled with the kids of parents who were born in Taiwan, China, India, Israel, the UK, France, and Germany. Just as wannabe movie stars go to LA, those who want to make it big in the high tech world come here. Well over half of new start-ups in the Valley are founded by someone born outside the United States, most often in China or India.

I do miss the olden days. I wish we didn’t lock our doors anymore. I wish my kids would be able to afford a house here some day. But I like being where the action is. I wouldn’t turn back the clock. When it comes to high tech, I live at ground zero. A great place to start a company or to set a thriller.

Cheers, Keith

As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at

Monday, October 19, 2009

C.J.'s Question for Keith Raffel

What’s special about Silicon Valley that makes it a good setting for crime fiction? If it is so good, why isn’t more crime fiction set there?

C.J., you got me. I just don't know why Silicon Valley isn't the setting for more crime fiction. There have been plenty of mysteries and thrillers set in New York, the capital of world finance and L.A., the capital of the world entertainment industry, so why not the capital of world high tech? Are writers afraid of that technology sounds boring or is it the people, the software geeks, who seem boring?

The exact location of Silicon Valley is hard to pinpoint, but I'd say its locus runs from Palo Alto down Highway 101 to San Jose. No doubt, though, that the Valley is a bubbling cauldron of ambition, envy, technology breakthroughs, and big bucks. There are industrial secrets to be stolen, spies from almost every foreign power, corporate shenanigans galore. A couple of years ago, a member of the board of the world’s largest high tech company, hired a private investigator to get the dirt on a rival member. CEO's are being sent up the river for backdating stock options and allegedly stealing hundreds of millions or more from stockholders. Two engineers are on trial right now for selling secrets to China. Holy mackerel!

In my latest, Smasher, we have a billionaire taking advantage of depressed market conditions to try to steal away our hero’s high-tech company. At the same time, Stanford professors are stealing credit for breakthroughs in particle physics. (I know it sounds technical, but it’s not. I’m a history major for Pete’s sake.) Good crime fiction is about people and what motivates them, how they react to extraordinary circumstances. Of course, in writing about the Valley, I want to throw in enough insider stuff to make it interesting, but not so much to turn it into a textbook.

Still, writing crime fiction set in the Valley is not quite as lonesome as it once was. Maybe it’s because we live in a world where so many of us use products from Google, Apple, Facebook, and other Valley companies. Readers are starting to wonder about the folks who come up with this stuff. What's the story behind those nerds and billionaires? I’m glad to see my amigo Barry Eisler started the action in his latest, Fault Line, here in Palo Alto before he moved it up to San Francisco. Maybe one day we can have a Silicon Valley chapter of International Thriller Writers that will take up more than a single booth at Peninsula Creamery in downtown Palo Alto.

As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Casting Couch

Gabriella Herkert
Catnapped and Doggone

When, not if, my Animal Instinct series is picked up by Hollywood, I shall have script and cast approval. Okay, so I haven’t taken my medication today but any writer who tells you they haven’t imagined accepting the Oscar for best screenplay adaptation from a previously published work is telling you a…fiction. Of course, I’ve thought about it. I’ve also changed my mind more often than my socks. And if I’m really honest, I’d admit that the role of Connor might actually end up as one of those tawdry casting couch stories that gets whispered about at A-list parties. But enough about my imaginary breach of ethics. If Catnapped and Doggone were green-lighted today, here are the professionals I’d be chasing.

Sandra Bullock in Speed mode would make a good Sara. She can bring the social awkwardness displayed in Two Weeks’ Notice and the ass-whooping attitude of Miss Congeniality. Another contender is Carla Gugino. She’s shown the run away for passion thing in the Buccaneers and handled the too hot Antonio Banderas in Spy Kids without visible singeing. My dark horse would be Emily Deschanel. Yes, I know, Kathy Reichs already has her locked in as Dr. Temperance Brennan on Bones, but she’s funny without trying and never, ever stays in the car while the bad guys are busy flexing. She’d need to polish up her conversational skills but I think she’s already got the I want to get naked with you look thing down even if she never acts on it with the boy scout Booth.

Ah, Connor. As I mentioned, auditions will be in person and may take a while. Here’s where I confess I used an actor as my physical prototype for Sara’s man with a plan. Not many people know this but Connor was added as a character after the first draft of Catnapped was written. It’s why the relationship was so abrupt. I slid Connor in after the fact. My Connor façade is an actor named Barry Pepper. Both his take charge attitude and blonde good looks in Enemy of the State gave me a blueprint for the fabulous Mr. McNamara. Of course, in my version, Connor’s got a better moral compass. Still without that good boy streak but every bit as tantalizing is Aaron Eckhart, particularly in his guise from Conversations with Other Women. Let’s face it. Anyone who could make women want to jump a tobacco lobbyist has got the charisma necessary to be the man of my, I mean Sara’s, dreams. Of course, if Brad Pitt is available…

Russ is Jesse L. Martin’s role if he wants it. He sings. He dances. He has a smile that lights up the room. He doesn’t even need to read. He is Russ.

The part of Felix will be played by Miss Kitty from the Closer. I hear she’s out of work and therefore available. No one does feline Camille like MK.

For anyone looking ahead to book three, Horsewhipped, think James Purefoy, Jeremy Sisto or Henry Cavill for the part of Simon. They’re good and I’m bad. As it should be.


Friday, October 16, 2009

The Bouchercon Edition!

Sandra Bullock

By Shane Gericke

So many stars want to film my books! So much rides on my selection, perhaps the very future of Hollywood, Bollywood, and all the little woods! O, the humanity! O, the pressure to get this right ...

OK, I have it. Sandra Bullock. She was born to play police detective Emily Thompson in the televised version of my books. Yes, she's a movie star. But they show her movies on TV after the Hollywood runs. India and Russia and East Whackistan gaze upon her work on pirated TV satellite. So my choice works. Sandra already played a bathing beauty/FBI agent in "Miss Congeniality," so she has the cop stuff down cold. Plus, she can drive real fast thanks to her starring role in that bus movie with Keanu Reaves--ah, hell, what was the name? "Crash"? "Speed"? "Stop For the Flashing Red Lights When Children Are Present"? Whatever--she knows how to put pedal to medal when Emily demands it. Which you'll find out in my third book, when Emily flies down the interstate in the middle of the night in a hot-rodded Dodge Charger ...

Yessir, Sandra Bullock's gonna be just great. Wait till I tell her she gets shot to pieces and takes 2,000 volts in an electric chair and has knives pass through her tortured flesh.

Laura Linney

But if Sandra's off having a baby and/or jetting around the world, as Hollywood glam do, or I scared her off with the tortured flesh stuff, my next choice is Laura Linney. I'm a huge Laura fan, particularly in her role as Sean Penn's wife in "Mystic River," the film version of Dennis Lehane's monumental work of the same name. (News flash: Sarah Weinman reported the other day that Dennis is writing a sequel to GONE, BABY, GONE the launch of his crime series starring Boston private eyes Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. Yay! I love those two and hoped that Dennis would relent and write another book with them.) Laura can play anything from femme fatale to girl next door to wife standing by her (gangster) man; she could step into the role of Emily Thompson with no problem whatsoever.

And those are my two picks. Surely ONE of them will say yes! I'm looking so forward to hanging out with them already at the world premier. Though since I'm merely the one who wrote the books that gave them the vehicle through which they became superstars, they'll probably mistake me for the coat check guy and hand over their wraps. Which is OK. I can hock the minks and make a fortune ...


I was supposed to be at Bouchercon this week, drinking Scotch with our faboo Seven contingent, being on panels, and otherwise having a swell time. But I got sick and had to cancel. Since I'm home with the rest of you guys now, I figure, hey, let's show a video instead of me lecturing you some more on the Way of the Riter Guy.

There probably are cheesier videos in history. But this is way at the top of Shane's Cheese Classix: Andy Williams singing "Music to Watch Girls By" in fabulous 1967. Look at those costumes! Look how square Andy is! A feast for all your senses.

So break out the Tab and the Screaming Yellow Zonkers. It's showtime!


For 92 years it was plain old Fort Dix. It's what the U.S. Army called its sprawling base in New Jersey that practically every soldier passed through on his (and later, her) way to an overseas posting. Fort. Dix. Two words. One syllable each. Plain. Simple. Nice. Easy to spell and remember. Language as it should be.

Times change.

In the interest of saving money, Fort Dix is being merged with an Air Force base and a Navy installation--McGuire AFB and Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering, respectively--to make the military's first three-branch base. So what do our government geniuses decide to call it? Fort Bush? Station Obama?

Naw. Try:

"Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst."

That torturous piece of crap would never have gotten past my editor.

Government needs one, badly.